Courtesy of Karen Lin
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic left many New Haven businesses relying on state assistance to remain open, and others closing their doors.
After Gov. Ned Lamont’s announcement back in April 2021, all pandemic restrictions were eliminated by May 1. The statewide curfew of 11 p.m. was moved back to midnight and alcohol without food service and maximum table size were also lifted. While the Department of Public Health “will issue statewide mandates on the activities of businesses” by May 19, there are no longer state mandates on the activities of businesses. After May 19, the businesses will be eligible to decide individually to preserve their social distancing and public safety protocols.
While the warmer weather fostered restaurants’ ability to offer outdoor seating to their customers, due to indoor restrictions like social distancing, reduced sitting capacities and limits on the maximum number of people, many found the cure in completely shutting the business down. Among the closed businesses are Next Door, The Beer Collective, Duc’s Banh Mi Shop, Chuan Du Hot Pot, Freskos, Fireside and Clark’s Family Restaurant — an over 40-year-old business and Yale tenant.
“To stay in the business, you need to make at least 65 to 70 percent (of rent)” he said. “Now we’re down to 15 to 20 percent because nobody is going out. You don’t need the shoe shine, the shone cleaning, you’re staying at home,” Fausto Guamantari, the co-owner of Christian Shoe Repair on Whitney Avenue, said.
Over the past year, New Haven businesses have wrestled with loss in revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the help they received were from Connecticut CARES Small Business Grant Program and nationwide Paycheck Protection Program grants. While some restaurants adapted to pandemic restrictions, many completely closed down. Non-food businesses, such as Shiny Hair Salon and Alterations by Melonie, dealt with the impact of the pandemic on social life, as they saw a decrease in need for their businesses.
Back in October, Lamont announced the Connecticut CARES Small Business Grant Program, a one-time grant of $5,000 awarded to businesses impacted by the pandemic. With a fund of $50 million, the program was initiated by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, or DECD. Online applications were released Nov. 9.
Until then, many New Haven-based businesses were relying on loans to stay open, such as the federal government’s PPP loans in order to cover their expenses. Unlike the CARES Small Businesses Grant Program, PPP loans had a tradeoff to calculate for many of the businesses.
“If I get it, I don’t know if I can pay it back. If business is going down, how can you repay it,” Guamantari said. The rounds of PPP loans were initially launched back in April 2020 when the pandemic first hit. As applications for PPP closed on Aug. 8, thousands of businesses applied for loans even in the state of Connecticut alone. According to the Connecticut Bankers Association, $4 billion in loans were processed nationwide on the first day of the announcement.cq
Not all of the local businesses that applied for the federal assistance met the requirements. For example, Diago Onofrao, the owner of Mike’s Shoe Repair in the Amity Neighborhood, was rejected since he was the only employee of the business.
“All people are working from home. There is no going out to restaurants. There are no parties. There is no church. People don’t need shoes. People are using flippers,” Onofrao said.
Other non-food New Haven businesses, such as Jet Cleaners, have also suffered from the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on social life. A collection of New Haven dress repair shops wrestled to stay open due to a decline in the use of professional and formal attire. Shoe repair shops, tailors, dry cleaners and hairdressers were among business owners who expressed their concern on the cancellation of social events and the reduction of lively outdoor activities. Although many continued to pay for business-fixed costs of electricity, phone and heat service, their business saw a major downfall.
“No costumes needed as there are no shows, parties, dances,” Michael Amore Jr., third generation owner of the Jet Cleaners on Orange Street in East Rock, said.
Restaurants and food services adjusted to pandemic regulations by increasing takeout and delivery orders, such as Yorkside Pizza and Junzi. Local businesses have seen more sales as Yalies came back to campus, such as Claire’s Corner Copia and Blue State Coffee.
“With the Yale students and the Yale faculty disappearing, we were down close to 70 percent [of normal business],” George Koutroumanis, owner of Yorkside Pizza, said. “We’re really intertwined with the community, with Yale, with athletics, with education. Usually, people come here with their families to celebrate getting into a fabulous school like Yale, and we love being a part of that celebration.”
According to a 2017 article of the New Haven Independent, current Town Green District Executive Director Win Davis said at a press conference that 73 percent of businesses downtown are locally owned and operated.